We believe that access to locally sourced food is more important than ever. The last couple of years has demonstrated the weaknesses in global supply chains, and with the uncertainties around climate change and the political landscape, this isn’t going to get any easier!
Our grandparents knew where their food came from, and probably produced at least some of it themselves. But somewhere along the line we lost that connection. How do we get back these connections to our food? How do we get healthy, sustainable, locally grown food to local communities?
How can we reconnect young people with farming and the land?
Our recent Gower Field to Fork project looked at just that. Working with Bishopston Comprehensive School, Castell Howell, Gower Farmer’s Market, Red Media, Western Slade Farm and Little Walterstone Farm, we brought Welsh food to Welsh school plates.
Gower has a proud history of being self-sustaining in farming and food production. Not long ago, “everyone” had a garden and grew vegetables, kept chickens and so on. But over the last hundred years this has dwindled to the point where only one farm was able to produce the quantities of food needed for our project.
Castell Howell ensured farmers got a fair market price for their produce in the hope that they will be encouraged to continue growing, keeping local farmers and future generations of local farmers working and shortening our supply chains.
Locally sourced potatoes, beetroot, cauliflower, leeks, and honey were converted into delicious, fresh, nutritious meals, chosen by pupils for pupils, with beetroot brownies for dessert! The pupils were amazed food in supermarkets is flown half way around the world, when much fresher and more nutritious food can be grown on their doorstep.
The new curriculum allows schools in Wales to access more creative and holistic resources, so any lesson could be themed around sustainable food and farming. Learning about food means children are more likely to try new food, have better diets, have a better understanding of nutrition, learn life skills, and accept responsibility.
School gardens restore the soil, and help children learn in authentic contexts, connect with nature and their communities, boost their immune systems, reduce obesity, moderate moods, reduce anxiety, develop empathy, and practice risk.
All these things apply to adults too, and research has shown gardening will also reduce your risk of health problems such as stroke, depression or Alzheimer’s. There’ll always be a benefit from growing your own food, even if it’s just knowing that for the next few days you don’t need to go to the supermarket!
So what can we do to feed ourselves and be as self-sufficient as possible?
Local networks and community activism are a key driver for change, putting the issue of healthy local food on the agenda and leading grassroots initiatives. The Sustainable Food Places movement believes a transition to a healthy, sustainable and more equitable food system requires not just strong national policy but also collaborative action between local policy makers, businesses and communities.
Bwyd Abertawe, whose interim chair is 4theRegion’s Co-Founder Dawn Lyle, is seeking to make Swansea a Sustainable Food Place. It has recently secured Welsh Government funding to grow the Good Food Movement in Swansea, which will build public awareness and active food citizenship around good local food.
Bwyd Sir Gâr Food is also a member of the Sustainable Food Places Network, and is beginning its own very exciting journey to make Carmarthenshire sustainable by ensuring equitable access to healthy, high quality local food.
Access to land is reportedly the biggest constraint to growing more food locally. What if we created a directory of available land, and called on businesses and landowners to lease it at peppercorn rates? What if new developments included community allotments and green space? A lot of public land is unused because no one knows who owns it. If in doubt, surely just make the land available?
Community supported agriculture (CSAs) are partnerships between farmers and consumers in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared. They offer a guaranteed fair income for growers throughout the year, because households subscribe in advance and growers know that whatever they produce, they have a market for. Locally grown food is provided directly to households with a very low carbon footprint, and the money spent is retained locally, creating worthwhile employment for local people.
Cae Tan CSA has successfully proven over the last few years that growers can create an economically viable business, produce a good amount of food, and have a wealth of benefits in terms of community cohesion, the environment, and education.
And of course we also need more urban and peri-urban farming!
Room to Grow are already repurposing tired old concrete gardens and under used land and turned them into vibrant “Grow Your Own” spaces packed full of nutritious herbs and vegetables. They will help build and maintain your garden planters and raised beds, share the produce and even learn some great new recipes to help you get the best from your garden.
Meanwhile, Biophilic Living Swansea will feature two south facing greenhouses on the roof of a mixed use development. The largest greenhouse will be serviced by an aquaponics system designed to produce up to 4.5 tonnes of fruit, vegetables, salad and herbs a year. The aquaponics system will create a continuous cycle where waste produced by fish, living in onsite tanks, adds nutrients to the water which feeds the greenhouse plants. The water is then filtered and recirculated back into the system. The plan is that residents will run the farm as a social enterprise.
Finance can also be a barrier to growing local food. The Sustainable Farming Scheme will only finance farms that have more than three hectares in production. This would exclude many CSA schemes. A recent study by Food Sense Wales has shown small scale investment can have a significant and positive impact on horticulture businesses, with sales of vegetables increasing on average by 74.5%. Food Sense Wales is calling on the Welsh Government to create a new infrastructure grant scheme for small scale horticulture that would speed up the growth of the sector and lead to more sales of locally grown vegetables.
And what about more traditional farms?
Many farmers don’t like CSAs and see people growing their own food as doing it for fun. But we don’t feel farms are in conflict with CSAs. In fact, farmers in Pembrokeshire have already given access to growers. And with fifty hectares of land needed to provide a community with the horticultural produce it needs, clearly there’s going to be a need for larger farms. How do we proactively engage with existing local farms and farmers to understand their challenges and how they can be better supported? It’s clear we need more and better facilities for processing locally grown produce, such as abbattoirs, bottling, washing, packaging, distribution, processing and manufacturing facilities.
Community food hubs are another way to connect people to where food comes from. It’s a great model for suppliers and producers, because it creates a guaranteed marketplace that will generate vital incomes. Food hubs can’t compete with supermarkets on price for some foods such as pasta, but you’ll find your overall weekly shop should cost less. And it’s more nutritious! Despite this food hubs have experienced difficulties getting people to shop there. FarmCo found they needed to spend a lot of time and effort on marketing and customer retention, and ultimately market themselves as an online food shop, rather than a hub.
What can we do to support local producers?
Swansea Food Partnership aims to create a vibrant and prosperous food offer for Swansea, strengthen and shorten supply chains, enhance food tourism, and bridge the gap between rural and urban food. They have also carried out a feasibility study to map local produce and shorten supply chains, run in partnership with Urban Foundry and Afallen.
The Welsh Government has also launched a new online resource, “Buying Food Fit for the Future“, to encourage more local spending on food by the NHS, schools and local government to help support Welsh producers, create more jobs, and boost prosperity in local communities.
If you’re a business, do you serve locally sourced, seasonal food on your menus and promote its provenance? Do you have an ethical purchasing policy? Do you have land that can be made available for community growing?
As an individual, do you still shop at supermarkets or do you buy as much as you can from local retailers and producers? When you go to a restaurant, do you ask them whether the food is local? Whether the gin is local?
And we could go further. The Scottish Government recently passed the Good Food Nation Bill, which commits to making Scotland a country where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day. Is this something we should be campaigning for here in Wales?
Access to locally sourced food is more important than ever. Our grandparents knew where their food came from, and we need to get that connection back!
On January 17th and 18th we’ll be hosting Food for the Region, sharing updates, explore emerging projects and encourage collaboration on all things relating to growing, producing, distributing, sharing and caring about food in South West Wales.
If you eat, grow or buy food, this event is for you! We’re inviting farmers, producers, distributors, processors, caterers, retailers, public procurement, regulators, communities, campaigners, and people who care about what we eat and how it’s produced, to come together once again to talk about what we want for our regional food system. You can register here